Understanding the Nature of Modern Slavery in the UK

3 June 2020
Research Innovation

To contribute towards achieving Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Centre for Crime and Justice has recently published the article, “Modern slavery in the UK: March 2020”. The article collates a range of available data sources on known victims and cases of modern slavery to provide a better understanding of the extent and nature of the crime in the United Kingdom. Alongside the article, Sir Bernard Silverman, a leading academic in the field, published a supporting blog titled “Understanding the nature of modern slavery in the UK”.

The article explores multiple data sources, such as police recorded crime, the Modern Slavery Helpline and the UK National Referral Mechanism (NRM). The data sources were chosen to reflect different aspects of modern slavery, such as the pathway through the criminal justice system, the support offered to victims and the public response. Each data source was badged to reflect one or more of the following measures:

  • Legal: The legal badge provides an indication of how the introduction of the modern slavery Acts has impacted the criminal justice system and government processes across the UK.
  • Support: The support badge shows the level of support provided and the routes available for victims.
  • Awareness: The awareness badge demonstrates the level of awareness of modern slavery across different groups in society.

Monitoring these data sources will help the UK measure its progress towards combating modern slavery. While this approach does not produce an estimated number of victims, it provides insight into both the scale and nature of modern slavery. Some of the findings from the article are discussed below.

Victim Identification

Evidence suggests there have been improvements in the identification of the crime since the introduction of the modern slavery Acts in 2015. However, many cases still remain hidden and unreported. Whilst there were general increases seen in the number of potential victims since 2015, it is likely that greater awareness, increased reporting and improvements in police recording contributed to this.

For example, the number of potential victims referred through the NRM increased by 36% to 6,985 in the year ending December 2018. Other findings from the NRM also showed that the crime does not always involve trafficking of people from other countries, with almost a quarter (23%) of the 6,985 potential victims recorded as UK nationals. Monitoring these data will highlight the reported cases of suspected modern slavery in the UK, and may also reflect the levels of awareness from the organizations responsible for reporting victims.

Prosecution and Conviction

Analysis of data sources linked to the prosecution and conviction process in the UK found that modern slavery cases were among the most challenging and complex crimes to prosecute. Just over two-thirds (68%) of modern slavery related Crown Prosecution Service prosecutions in England and Wales resulted in a conviction in the year ending March 2019. Ongoing monitoring of cases through the criminal justice system, and in particular prosecution and conviction rates, will help support the development of strategy and policy at a national and international level.

Survivor Support

Data from The Salvation Army, a charity responsible for providing support to adult victims referred through the NRM in England and Wales, found that of the 2,251 potential victims they had supported in the year ending June 2019, 48% had experienced labour exploitation and 39% had experienced sexual exploitation. Monitoring these data can provide an indication of the number of victims accepting support and subsequently the workload of the charities. They also give an indication of the profile of victims who seek support as well as the type of exploitation they experienced.

For further information on the findings from the research, please see the article. ONS welcomes comments on the approach and how it could be taken forward in the future by contacting crimestatistics@ons.gov.uk.

This article has been prepared by the Office for National Statistics Centre for Crime and Justice as a contributor to Delta 8.7. As provided for in the Terms and Conditions of Use of Delta 8.7, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of UNU or its partners.

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